Brian Viner: I was as ridiculously wide of the mark last week as a penalty hitting the corner flag

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The Independent Online

Hell hath no fury like Manchester United fans scorned, and as the dispenser of some of that scorn, I have this past week been the object of the fury. There have been long periods when emails have been dropping into my in-tray at the rate of about one a minute, not all of them questioning my parentage and making suggestions about my perverse habits in the bedroom, but not all of them not.

My act of provocation was to write last Saturday, in the "Who I Don't Like" item adjacent to this column, that with another league title won and £50m worth of new players already lined up for next season, the United fans who waged a campaign of hatred against the Glazer family should be feeling a little apologetic. I suppose I had in mind the people who burnt effigies and issued threats of violence.

To those United fans who raised my own club loyalties - "I would have thought that an Everton fan with its great history and tradition of loyal support would have understood exactly why many Man U fans remain bitterly opposed to these carpetbaggers taking over our club," wrote a Mr Paul Roby - I replied that I feel the same contempt for the Evertonians who scrawled "Rooney die" on the walls near Goodison Park. The game has no place for such sentiments, whether aimed at wonderful young footballers or rich American "carpetbaggers".

But I am drifting away from the point, which is unequivocal contrition. I have read every email sent from outraged United fans, or at least the relatively temperate ones, and I have also consulted journalistic colleagues who know more than I do about the situation at Old Trafford. As a consequence, I realise that what I wrote was ill-considered, naive, and as spectacularly wide of the mark as a penalty kick hitting a corner flag.

The Glazers, and chief executive David Gill, and even to a certain extent Sir Alex Ferguson, are plainly entitled to the disgust of United fans; indeed, I have been astounded by how low Ferguson has sunk in the estimation of many. None of them question his brilliance as a manager; lots of them question his character. "Lifelong socialist? He's an absolute hypocrite," wrote one of my correspondents. "I would rather go for a pint with Tommy Doc than 'Sir' Alex any day of the week."

My journalistic source, a man with impeccable contacts at Old Trafford, tells me that the Glazers, terrified of a major boycott by fans after saddling the club with debts of over £650m, knew that they had to keep Fergie on-side. "They are also personally scared of him," my friend said, "and he loves that. He's having a much better time than he did in the latter days of the plc."

In the meantime, season-ticket prices have been hiked by 26 per cent since May 2005 and next season, season-ticket holders will not have the option to pay for cup games as well as Premiership games, but will be compelled to do so, taking the cost of most season tickets well over £1,000. Clearly, the fans are being asked to pay off the Glazers' unwieldy mortgage, and Ferguson, as many of them see it, is complicit.

On the new players, the chairman of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, Nick Towle, wrote: "The money for these transfers does not come from the Glazers. It comes from the club's own funds. The Glazers have not put a penny of their own money into the team and never will. All funds for the team and even for the Glazers to acquire United has been borrowed by the club itself at vast cost to it (£62m a year paid out in interest, confirmed by the Glazers' own spokesman). So who actually pays for these players? Why, the fans of course. One reason why you have not heard from anti-Glazer fans about these transfers is that we are busy preparing legal challenges against the club for (i) raising ticket prices by 11-14 per cent next season, the third large rise in the two years since the Glazer takeover, and (ii) forcing season-ticket holders to join the 'Automatic Cup Scheme'."

The only good thing to have come out of the Glazer takeover, I have been told time and time again this week, is Bury-based FC United of the Northern Premier League, formed by disillusioned Reds and thriving. I have been invited to a game next season and look forward to it, if I can tear myself away from my perverse bedroom habits.

As for another bedroom habit I have been accused of this week, they say that it makes you blind. Yet I have had my eyes opened, to the determination not only of the Glazers but of all the Americans flooding into Premiership football to make money, not least Messrs Hicks and Gillett at the other end of the East Lancs Road. They are not interested in the trickledown effect, in the grassroots of the game being watered, because they are not interested in the game. I apologise for elevating them on this page last week. I should have known better, and now I do.

Who I Like This Week...

David Beckham, of course, who in England's match against Estonia on Wednesday evening did exactly what it says on the tin: expert provider of crosses leading to goals that don't seem likely to come from any other source. In the post-match assessment of Jamie Redknapp in the Sky Sports studio, Beckham "literally put it on a plate" for Peter Crouch and Michael Owen to score England's second and third goals, which made me think that football pundits should be contractually prevented from using the word "literally". But everyone knew what Redknapp was getting at, and I for one am rather glad that, as far as his international career is concerned, Beckham has literally risen like Lazarus.

And Who I Don't

The England manager Steve McClaren's assistant Terry Venables, who looked less than ecstatic on the bench when England's Beckham-assisted goals hit the back of the Estonian net. I'm not suggesting for a second that Tel wasn't delighted to see England prevail in Tallinn, but if it is true, as has been reported, that he was very much opposed to the former captain's recall, then it seems understandable that he should have had mixed feelings about Beckham's hugely influential performance. And if that is the case then maybe it is time for Venables to be eased out of an Eng-land set-up in which his role has always seemed as clear as mud.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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